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Correct Automatic Numbering in Numbered Lists

The Annoyance:

Automatic numbering of lists is wonderful until it goes wrong, and then it's a screaming nightmare. I'm working on a 300-page document that contains about 200 numbered lists explaining procedures. Each time I start a new list, the numbering gets all flaky. First off, Word assumes that I'm trying to continue the previous list, even if it's five pages back. So I right-click in the new list and choose Restart Numbering to tell Word to restart numbering for the list. It's okay for about the first three items, then it gets confused and starts again with number 1. If I right-click in the list and tell Word to continue numbering for this paragraph (which should be number 4), it continues the whole list from the previous list. I've seen this behavior in several versions of Word. I figured the problem would be fixed in Word 2003, but if anything, it's even worse than Word 2000.

The Fix:

Bad news. If this starts happening, you're unlikely to find happiness in your near future. What's going wrong? The short answer is that Word's list templates, the templates on which lists are based, get uncomfortably wobbly once you've created more than a few lists in a document. There are a few ways that you can try to correct the numbering, but the best way to work around this weakness in Word is not to create list templates by clicking the Numbering button on the Formatting toolbar or using the Bullets and Numbering dialog box. Let's take a look at your options for correcting (or avoiding) the problem.

Restart each list manually

If you have the patience, you can restart each list manually by right-clicking its first item and choosing Restart Numbering from the shortcut menu. Word 2000 doesn't offer this command, so you must display the Bullets and Numbering dialog box, make sure the correct list template is selected, choose the "Restart numbering" option, and click the OK button.

Wait until the document is finished before you restart numbering, because otherwise the numbers may walk as you insert further lists.

Restarting lists manually is seldom a satisfactory solution, but if your goal is simply to get the document printed with steps numbered correctly, it may be enough.


Restarting a list manually places a restart marker in the first paragraph of the list. If you copy or move this paragraph, the restart marker goes with it. So if you restart a list, then copy the first paragraph and paste it later in the document to create a new list, the numbering on the first list changes from "restart" to "continue," continuing the numbering of the previous list. You'll have to insert a new restart marker at the beginning of that list to preserve the correct numbering.

Reset the list templates

If your list numbering has gone wobbly, try resetting the list templates. Choose Format → Bullets and Numbering to display the Bullets and Numbering dialog box. On each tab, click each of the list templates in turn; if the Reset button is available for that list template, click the button and click the Yes button in the confirmation dialog box. When you've finished, click the Close button.

This may fix the numbering problems for the time being. It's usually worth trying, as it takes only a moment or two.

Use a designated style to start each list

If you have the time to design (or redesign) a template to help avoid numbering problems, you can designate a style to start each list. The paragraph in this style is not part of the list, but indicates that the list starts after it. For example, you might create a style named Body List Intro to use for the body paragraph that leads into each list:

  1. In Word 2003 or Word XP, choose Format → Styles and Formatting, and then click the New Style button. In Word 2000, choose Format → Style, and then click the New Style button.

  2. Name the new Style "Body List Intro" (or your preferred name). Select the style you'll use for your numbered list in the "Style for following paragraph" drop-down list.

  3. Check the "Add to template" box.

  4. Click the Format button and choose Paragraph from the pop-up menu. On the Indents and Spacing tab, choose Level 1 in the "Outline level" drop-down list. Click the OK button to close the Paragraph dialog box.

  5. Click the Format button again, and choose Numbering from the pop-up menu. Click the Outline Numbered tab, click the list template on which you want to base the list, and then click the Customize button.

  6. In the Level list, make sure that 1 is selected, so that you're working with the top level of the list—that is, the introductory paragraph that will not have a number. Delete the contents of the "Number format" box (unless you want your introductory paragraphs to bear a number). Click the More button (unless the dialog box is already displaying a Less button), select Body List Intro in the "Link level to style" drop-down list, and select Nothing in the "Follow number with" drop-down list.

  7. In the Level list, click 2, and edit the format in the "Number format" box—for example, change it to "1." instead of ".1." (with the leading period). Select the appropriate numbered list style in the "Link level to style" drop-down list. Check the "Restart numbering after" box, and choose Level 1 in the drop-down list. Then click the OK button twice to close the Customize Outline Numbered List dialog box and the New Style dialog box.

When you need to create a list, create a new paragraph and apply your list-intro style to it. If the list-intro style is for a "real" paragraph, type the text for that paragraph. Press Enter to switch to the list style and start the numbering.


If your documents don't consistently use a particular style as the lead-in to a list, one option is to create a style that consists of a nonprinting frame in the left (or right) margin of the page. You can then use this style to start your lists and enforce correct numbering without adding an extra paragraph or space above the list. Turn on the display of paragraph marks to make sure that the frame is visible so that you don't delete it by accident.

Use SEQ fields to work around list numbering

A useful workaround for list numbering is to use SEQ fields to define a sequence, rather than using Word's Bullets and Numbering feature. This way, you tell Word explicitly where each list starts, so it can't really get confused. Entering SEQ fields manually is tedious, but you can create AutoCorrect entries that enable you to enter them almost effortlessly.


The advantage—and disadvantage—of using SEQ fields is that what you're creating isn't a list in Word's standard sense, so Word doesn't treat it as a list. This means that you may need to force renumbering on the paragraphs in the sequence to get the numbering right. Of course, if you're used to having to force Word to restart (or continue) numbering, that shouldn't be too much of a hardship.

To create the AutoCorrect entries:

  1. Start a new paragraph, and press Ctrl+F9 to insert the curly braces that designate the start and end of a field code: {}. (Don't try typing the braces—that won't work.)

  2. Click inside the braces and type SEQ numlist \r1 to start a sequence of numbered fields starting with 1. Click after the closing brace and type a period and a tab.

  3. Press Shift+Home to select what you've entered—that is, { SEQ numlist \r1 }. and the tab. Choose Tools → AutoCorrect Options (Tools → AutoCorrect in Word 2000) to display the AutoCorrect dialog box with your selection entered in the With box. Make sure the "Formatted text" option is selected (it should be selected by default), and type 1] in the Replace box. Click the OK button to add the AutoCorrect entry.

  4. Edit your SEQ field so that it reads { SEQ numlist \n }, which will make it enter the next number in the sequence. Type a period and a tab after the closing brace, and press Shift+Home to select from the insertion point back to the beginning of the line. Choose Tools → AutoCorrect Options (Tools → AutoCorrect in Word 2000) to display the AutoCorrect dialog box with your selection entered in the With box. Make sure the "Formatted text" option is selected (it should be selected by default), and type x] in the Replace box. Click the OK button to add the AutoCorrect entry.

  5. Close the AutoCorrect dialog box, Shift-click the File menu, and choose Save All to save these new formatted AutoCorrect entries in Normal.dot.

That probably seemed like pretty fair gibberish, but you can now create a numbered list by typing 1] and a tab at the start of the first paragraph and then x] and a tab at the beginning of each subsequent paragraph. Word automatically displays the correct numbers for the fields. Note that if you later go back and insert a new paragraph in the list, the numbers after it will be wrong. To update them, select the list and press F9.


To begin a list with the numbering continued from the previous list, start the first item of the continuation list with x] rather than 1].

Watch Out for Revision Marks Wrecking Numbered Lists

The Annoyance:

When I use revision marks, my numbered lists go berserk. How can I restore normality?

The Fix:

If you've read the previous Annoyance, you'll know that Word's list templates can get unstable when they're used extensively. Revision marks make things worse, because in addition to all the numbering that Word already has to track for each list, it has to track which items have been deleted and which added.

As you might guess, most of these problems go away if you stop using revision marks—but that's usually not an option. Your next best choice is to ignore the problems with the revision marks until you (or your colleague) have finished the editing process and cleared the revision marks out of the document. At that point, the numbered lists will most likely look much better, if not perfect. You can then decide between working your way through the document and restarting each numbered list manually, or trying one of the other methods described in the previous Annoyance for hammering the list templates into shape.

Fix "Page X of Y" Numbering

The Annoyance:

I've put a "page 1 of 50" numbering feature in my document's header, but it's not working correctly.

The Fix:

This problem is most likely to occur if you're using Word 2000 without any Service Releases applied to it. Upgrading to Word 2000 SR-1 or a later Service Release should fix this problem, as should upgrading to a later version of Word.

If for any reason (for example, company policy) you can't upgrade:

  1. Press Ctrl+End to move to the end of the document and click to put the insertion point in the last paragraph. Choose Insert → Bookmark, type a name (starting with a letter and including no spaces, though underscores are okay), and click the Add button.

  2. Choose View → Header and Footer to switch to the header. Place the insertion point where you want the numbering, and type Page and a space. Click the Insert Folio button on the Header and Footer toolbar to insert the current page number, then type a space, of, and another space.

  3. Choose Insert → Reference → Cross-reference (in Word 2000, choose Insert → Cross-reference), select "Bookmark" in the "Reference type" drop-down list and "Page number" in the "Insert reference to" drop-down list, and click the bookmark in the "For which bookmark" list. Uncheck the "Insert as hyperlink" box. Click the Insert button, and then click the Close button.

This is a clumsy and ugly fix, but it works.

Tame Word's List Indentation

The Annoyance:

The way Word indents lists—especially nested lists—is very frustrating. If you leave it at the default settings, you very quickly end up with very short lines. Trying to reformat a line within the list so that it aligns the way I want it to is next to impossible.

The Fix:

I doubt that this is what you want to hear, but you need to adjust the styles you use for the lists (whether they are list styles or paragraph styles) so that they have the indentation you want. Don't leave the styles at their default settings, because Word indents the lines generously, as you say. See "Get Started with Styles" and "Stop a Style Change in One Document from Affecting Other Documents" in the next section for instructions on modifying existing styles in Word and creating new ones.

Make Outline Numbering Work

The Annoyance:

I can't make outline numbering work properly. It used to number only the paragraphs that had a Heading style applied. Now it seems to number paragraphs indiscriminately.

The Fix:

It sounds as though you've applied outline levels to some of the styles in your document that don't need them. Click in one of the paragraphs that shouldn't have a number, choose Format → Paragraph, and check the selection in the "Outline level" drop-down list on the Indents and Spacing tab of the Paragraph dialog box. If it says anything other than "Body text," modify the style and set the outline level to "Body text."

Create Custom Outline Numbering

The Annoyance:

I write many lecture notes in Word (not in Outline view, because I include sections that don't fit into the regular outline format). I find it especially annoying that when I have Word set to generate the next line of an outline and I press Return, Word automatically decides which format of numbers and letters to assign to the next level of the outline. For example, I would like to have a level of Roman numerals, followed by capital letters at the next level, followed by Arabic numerals. Word decides to put lowercase letters and then Arabic numerals. I also prefer to use parentheses, but Word automatically puts periods after the letters/numerals.

The Fix:

If I understand you right, you should be able to fix this problem by customizing the outline numbering in the template attached to the document:

  1. Choose Format → Bullets and Numbering, and then click the Outline Numbered tab.

  2. Click the outline format closest to your needs, click the Customize button to display the Customize Outline Numbered List dialog box, and then click the More button to display the full dialog box (see Figure 4-9).

  3. In the Level list, select the level of outline numbering that you want to customize, and then use the other controls in the dialog box to apply the numbering and formatting you want. Repeat the process for the other levels of the list that you want to change.

Figure 4-9. You can customize Word's outline numbered lists so that they automatically apply your preferred numbering formats to different list levels.

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